The Boston Globe

Beacon Hill parents hatch $1.5m playground plan

November 15, 2010|Renata Brito, Globe Correspondent

A Beacon Hill parents’ group is seeking to build a $1.5 million privately financed playground near the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, hoping to give a surge of neighborhood youngsters a structured place to play in the popular park.

The group, called the Friends of Esplanade Playspace, says playgrounds along the river are geared toward children under 5, and grade-schoolers need something more suited to their age.

At 10,000 square feet, the new playground will be designed for children ages 5 to 12 and feature rocks for climbing, nets, a jungle gym, swings, and slides. It is slated for the riverside near the Esplanade Cafe, not far from the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge that spans Storrow Drive.

“As my kids get older, they pooh-pooh the idea of going to a baby playground. They want to be climbing trees,’’ said Karen Fabbri, whose children are 5 and 7. “They want to be exploring and climbing nature.’’

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns and maintains the Esplanade, has thrown its support behind the project, as has Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The group hopes the playground could be completed next summer.

“It’s an ambitious plan, but we’ve done playgrounds under similar circumstances before,’’ said Joe Orfant, chief of the DCR’s Bureau of Planning and Resource Protection.

Because the property belongs to the state, the Massachusetts Historical Commission will have to approve the plan.

The Beacon Hill Civic Association, an influential neighborhood group, has not taken a position on the playground but will review the proposal at a meeting tonight .

“Overall, it’s an exciting plan,’’ said Colin Zick, who chairs the group’s parks and public spaces committee. “But it’s a state park, and it’s important to preserve all of its uses.’’

Zick recalled past tensions over Lederman Park, a sports field along the river, regarding access and a proposed fence that critics said would spoil the open feel of the park. He said that allowing a group to use public space for a specific use could encourage others to follow suit.

But supporters and state officials say the proposed playground will be open to all. The Playspace group also plans to establish an endowment fund to maintain the playground.

“We want to build a first-class playground and maintain it that way,’’ Orfant said.

Wendy Fox, a spokeswoman for DCR, said the scope of the private effort is striking.

“That’s the only reason it’s happening,’’ she said. “It’s a great partnership and will be a very nice addition.’’

Parents said an influx of families with young children into the area has put playground space at a premium. About 2,700 children live on Beacon Hill and the Back Bay section closest to the Public Garden, the group says, citing census figures. That far surpasses the combined capacity of four playgrounds in the area, and four elementary schools do not have playgrounds.

The playground would be beside a paved path, so parents are discussing whether to put up fences to guard against collisions between children and runners and bikers. But because the park is meant for older children, parents want the area to be more open than traditional playgrounds.

City and state parks are enjoying unusual popularity in recent months, with attendance up sharply this past summer.

In August, the head of the state’s recreation department said the Esplanade, along with Castle Island in South Boston and Pope John Paul II Park in Dorchester, had seen a rush of visitors during the warmer months, presumably because more families were spending vacations at home to save money.

In the same vein, a privately funded playground is welcome news to a budget-crunched state government. At a recent meeting about the plan, state Representative Martha Walz, who represents the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, called the playground “a terrific proposal.’’

“There’s a whole group of children who need a space and equipment that are relevant to their age,’’ she said, “and we don’t have that currently.’’

Peter Schworm of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

http://articles.boston.com/2010-11-15/news/29286355_1_new-playground-parks-and-public-spaces-state-park

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THE BOSTON GLOBE

Nov. 30 hearing slated on Esplanade playground plan

November 15, 2010 11:38 AM

By Renata Brito, Globe Correspondent

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has slated a Nov. 30 hearing on a proposal by a Beacon Hill parents’ group to build a $1.5 million privately financed playground near the Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River Esplanade.

esplanade_playspace.gif

The group, called the Friends of Esplanade Playspace, says playgrounds along the river are geared toward children under 5, and a surge of neighborhood grade-schoolers need something more suited to their age, the Globe reports this morning.

At 10,000 square feet, the new playground will be designed for children ages 5 to 12 and feature rocks for climbing, nets, a jungle gym, swings, and slides. It is slated for the riverside near the Esplanade Cafe, not far from the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge that spans Storrow Drive.

“As my kids get older, they pooh-pooh the idea of going to a baby playground. They want to be climbing trees,’’ said Karen Fabbri, whose children are 5 and 7. “They want to be exploring and climbing nature.’’

The Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns and maintains the Esplanade, has thrown its support behind the project, as has Mayor Thomas M. Menino. The group hopes the playground could be completed next summer.

The meeting will be held from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Hill House, 127 Mt. Vernon St.

Children are welcome to testify from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., the DCR said.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/11/dec_1_hearing_s.html

THE BOSTON GLOBE

The ‘no people’: Civic Association wields strong influence

  December 14, 2010 12:50 PM

bhacorn.jpg

(John Bohn/Globe file photo)

Intimate streets and historic architecture are hallmarks of Beacon Hill.

By Renata Brito, Globe Correspondent

Since enraged housewives stormed into City Hall to protest plans to pave the historic brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill in 1922, the Beacon Hill Civic Association has played a major role in the historic neighborhood.

From zoning permits, to trash, to street cleaning and even neighborhood holiday decorations, the association has a hand in a wide range of matters. Its power is informal, but mighty nonetheless.

Even though the city theoretically has final words on zoning, urban renewal and architectural planning, in practice residents of the neighborhood cannot change the color of their front doors without approval of the association.

Known as the “no people” for their strict regulations, the association has been fighting to preserve one of the last neighborhoods in Boston that still has hills, Victorian architecture, and neighbors that actually know each other for more than 80 years.

“We are absolutely the defenders of this neighborhood, so we have been the ‘no people’ forever and that’s just not going to change,” said the association’s president, Ania Camargo. “[Beacon Hill] could be a bunch of tall buildings and everything flattened.”

Even without legal power, the association has a strong influence on the city. It can count on support from such elected officials as state Representative Marty Walz, City Council President Michael Ross, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, and Mayor Thomas Menino.

“We occasionally disagree, but most of what they advocate for makes tremendous sense,” Ross said.

The association does not shy away from confrontation to protect what it sees as the neighborhood’s best interests. Most recently, it has clashed with DeLuca’s Market owner Virgil Aiello who wishes to expand his store into residential space on Charles Street but has not gained approval from the association nor from the city.

But the battle with Aiello seems minor when compared to other conflicts the association has faced in the past, most famously, the battle with Suffolk University, which lasted for many years and was settled in 2008.

Suffolk had initially planned to build much needed dormitories in the residential neighborhood, a plan which the association strongly opposed, said John Nucci, Suffolk University’s vice president for external affairs.

The dorm, and the hundreds of students it would have sheltered, would have been a tipping point to the balance of the neighborhood, Camargo said.

Suffolk came to realize how powerful the association was.

“I quickly learned you don’t blow any fastballs by the Beacon Hill Civic Association,” said Nucci, who was hired in 2006, after the conflict had already started. “They may not have the statutory authority, but they do have the political power,” he said.

The 156,000-square-foot building initially planned as a dorm was finally approved by the association and the city to become the university’s new school of art and design. New dorms were instead built in Downtown Crossing.

“We signed a 10-year agreement with the Beacon Hill Civic Association that spells out where we will expand, and carves out areas on Beacon Hill where we decided not to expand,” Nucci said. “It really is a blueprint for peaceful co-existence going forward, and that never occurred before. Suffolk has been around for 106 years, the Beacon Hill Civic Association has been around for almost as long.”

But fighting so fiercely to have a say in changes, and the preservation of history, comes at a cost not only for the association, but also for residents and neighbors.

Renovating and improving homes and businesses to meet safety and energy-use guidelines of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission, which protects original architecture, can be expensive.

The Starbucks on Charles Street is a good example of some of the financial obstacles the rules may pose.

Located inside a building designed in the 1900s, the coffee chain decided several years ago to renovate its interior following Victorian architecture and using reclaimed barn wood from New Hampshire, said store manager Brian Fisher. However, the Starbucks gave up on the renovation of its entrance doors.

“We’ve tried to get the doors replaced, but it was going to cost around $40,000 because it has to be handmade, and approved, and all that jazz,” Fisher said.

Jack Gurnon, a resident and owner of the hardware store Charles Street Supply, said he thought the association’s rules were understandable.

“They are not close-minded, they just want to keep the neighborhood historic the way it should be,” he said.

Although it is hard to deny approval of some requests, Camargo said possible long-term consequences make it necessary.

“For example, we are against liquor licenses, and the people could be the nicest people in the world, with the most successful business in the world, but if they leave and they sell that liquor license we don’t know who’s going in there,” Camargo said.

One of the association’s many concerns presently, Camargo said, is preserving residential areas. Beacon Hill has seen many families leave because of the cost of housing.

“There’s a mass exodus” she said. “If you look at the kids that were born here in 2000 there’s about 80, so by now they would be third-graders. We have 25 third-graders left,” she said.

Allowing business expansions such as Aiello’s would take away from residential space and ultimately go against the aim of attracting families back to Beacon Hill, opponents of his plan say.

After two years of research, the association recently released a list of six aspirations for the neighborhood. These included: preserving a clean, safe and historic neighborhood; ensuring that a diverse group of residents thrive; and conserving the historic architecture while enhancing new and sustainable technologies.

Camargo said the data gathered from their research revealed a demographically changing Beacon Hill that surprised her.

“We have a lot of young folks, never married, and we’re not that wealthy community everyone thinks we are,” she said.

On the other hand, it did not come as a surprise to see so many families leaving Beacon Hill. “If you look at the median price for a house here, two bedrooms versus three bedrooms, it’s a million-dollar jump.”

In fact, many families see it more affordable to purchase two smaller apartments and merge them to make three- or more bedroom houses, Camargo said.

With Suffolk’s plans to potentially move out of Beacon Hill and expand elsewhere, the buildings left behind would be good opportunities for more low- and moderate-income housing fit for families.

With the power and influence the association has had over the years, Camargo said she was confident that with time the association will achieve its goals while acting in the best interest of the neighborhood.

“It’s a culture,” she said.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/beacon_hill/2010/12/evan_richmanglobe_staff1995_la.html

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THE BOSTON GLOBE

New art movement: ‘roving’ gallery proposed for empty spaces

October 25, 2010 05:30 PM

empty.JPG

(Renata Brito photo for boston.com)

The proposed Beacon Hill Roving Gallery would use empty commercial space like this one on Cambridge Street as temporary galleries to highlight local artists.

By Renata Brito, Globe Correspondent

The days of empty storefronts on Beacon Hill could be numbered if a new non-profit organization succeeds with plans to fill the neighborhood with art.

The proposed Beacon Hill Roving Gallery would use empty commercial space in the neighborhood as temporary galleries for new upcoming local artists, said founder David Greenwold. The concept not only opens an otherwise closed space to the public, attracting art buyers, but it is also an opportunity for landlords to find potential tenants. Once the space is rented, the gallery will rove elsewhere.

The man behind this project is neither an artist nor a landlord, but a 36-year-old bridge engineer and Beacon Hill resident.

About a month ago, he read about “roving galleries” in New York, London, and Chicago created to benefit struggling artists in a poor economy and landlords faced with a real estate crisis.

“If there is foot traffic, if it’s well lit, if it’s clean, if it’s fresh and painted, well decorated, in theory it helps to rent a place,” Greenwold said.

Noticing some empty spaces on Cambridge Street, Greenwold recently decided to visit the South End Open Studio Night and speak to some local artists about his idea. The feedback was positive, Greenwold said.

“We’re [Beacon Hill] in good shape, but there are three or four empty spots that just don’t seem to be holding a tenant,” he said. “Personally, what I would like to see is art in these empty spaces.”

With strong support from the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which is helping the non-profit sort out legalities, the project would also benefit residents.

“It can’t be a bad thing to have art in the neighborhood,” Greenwold said.

Karen Fabbri, one of three BHCA board members working directly with Greenwold on the project, said the marriage between artists, landlords, and residents would only benefit the Hill.

“There are so many talented people that don’t have an outlet to show their work, and I think what a gift if someone gives them a viable, feasible way to do that,” said Fabbri, who added that it breaks her heart to see empty business spaces.

The project has also gained the official support of local politicians such as state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, Representative Marty Walz, and City Council President Mike Ross.

“I believe that a vibrant arts scene is critical to our city’s success,” Ross said in a statement. “I’m confident this project will get off the ground and serve as a model for innovative ways to present art to the public.”

While Greenwold works on the unfolding of the project, hoping roving galleries will be up and running by spring, he said he is looking at similar art models for help, including Jen Matson’s for-profit Artists Crossing in Downtown Boston and the Annual Beacon Hill Art Walk.

BHCA president Ania Camargo said she could envision a roving gallery in any of the couple empty storefronts presently closed on Cambridge or Charles Street.

“It’s great, I think people are interested and I think the economy is just right for it,” Camargo said.

For more information on Roving Gallery e-mail info@rovinggallery.org

This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.

http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/beacon_hill/2010/10/by_renata_brito_globe_correspo.html

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